Royale Union Saint-Gilloise were formed in 1897 (matricule number 10) and were arguably the most successful of all Belgian clubs in the pre-World War II era, securing no less than eleven Belgian First Division titles. Their run of titles included four straight championships between 1903/4 and 1906/7. A hat-trick of title wins came in the 1930’s and with it a still unbeaten Belgian record of 60 consecutive matches without defeat.
The end of the magnificent unbeaten run came when Union lost to city rivals Daring Club of Bruxelles (later Racing White Daring of Molenbeek) and was a key point in the intense rivalry between Union and Daring in the inter-War years. Daring were the older club (matricule 2) but had won less championships than Union. The great rivalry even transcended the football field and was made into a highly successful theatrical play “Bossemans and Coppenolle”, the eponymous characters being fans of either club. Even as late as the 1980’s when both clubs were in the Second Division, 20,000 people would attend the great city derby. Sadly the old RWDM club folded in 2002.
Union were also a force in the early pre-UEFA European competitions, winning both the Coupe Ponthoz (three times) and the Coupe Dupuich. They also competed well in UEFA competitions in the late 1950’s with the pinnacle being a semi-final appearance in the old Inter Cities Fairs Cup. Lokomotive Leipzig and AS Roma were defeated over two legs on the way to a semi-final meeting with Birmingham City. The English side won both legs by four goals to two, before losing to Barcelona.
The 1950’s were, however, to be the last of the golden years for Union, by 1963 they had dropped into the Second Division and only 17 years later they were in the fourth tier. These days they compete in Division Three.
The club derived their name from the site of their original home of St. Gilles, a department of Brussels and also a twin town of Tower Hamlets. The St.Gilles name itself comes from a seventh century Greek Christian hermit, venerated for establishing a large abbey in the Provence region of France, and also for his work in suppressing the spread of bubonic plague.
Prior to the current ground the club played on a number of pitches including a field called La Cambre which was adjacent to the velodrome. In the early 1920’s the club moved to the neighbouring Forest area to take up residency at the Stade Joseph Marien. The stadium and the stadium is set in the pleasant surroundings of Duden Park and had originally been built in 1919 to host some of the football matches of the following years summer Olympiad held in Brussels. At that time it had a modest grandstand and the changing rooms were on the opposite side of the pitch.
The wonderful clubhouse shows the plans for the incredible facade of the present stand and are dated 1922. However, it was not until August 1926 when, in the presence of Prince Charles of Belgium, the new stand was officially inaugurated. It is an absolute masterpiece of design and construction, very much up to the standard of contemporary Leitch constructions at Rangers, Aston Villa and Fulham. In the intervening years the stadium is pretty much unchanged save for the addition of roof mounted floodlights and the annexing of some crumbling old terracing behind one goal. The modern day capacity of the Marien is set at 8,000. The large open terracing opposite the grandstand is truly magnificent and sports a veritable forest of crush barriers. Interestingly one of the flags on display is the Belgian tricolour with the club crests of USG, RFC Liège and Cercle Bruges, two other clubs that share Union’s stance on history and the very fabric of their identity.
The first half of this Third Division encounter was goalless and was probably shaded by the visitors, Sprimont-Comblain, although they could not capitalise on a number of good chances, mainly due to the fine form of home goalkeeper, Anthony Sadin. The home side came out from the break with renewed vigour and within four minutes managed to break the deadlock with a superb strike from the Italian Ignazio Cocchiere.
The game then became the Yahya Boumediene show. The young Belgian of Morrocan extraction, runs the Sprimont defence ragged with a super display of trickery and pace. It is no surprise when he sets up Union’s second goal. He dances into the visitors penalty area yet again and selflessly squares the ball to Esteban Casagolda. He clips the ball around the keeper and slots the ball into an empty net. With just eight minutes left there is no way back for Sprimont and Union run out deserving winners.
As some unseasonably late summer sun beat down on this magnificent arena it really felt like there were few better places to watch a game of football. A great club, fascinating history well preserved and cherished by the current board, and a most welcoming set of staff and supporters. I would say that it Union Saint-Gilloise have got everything just about spot on.
Belgium Division 3 (Group B) – 29/09/2013
Royale Union Saint-Gilloise (0)2 (Cocchiere 49, Casagolda 82)
Royale Sprimont-Comblain Sport (0)0
Attendance: c.700 (at the Stade Joseph Marien)
19. Anthony Sadin; 4. Anthony Cabeke (c); 17. Steven Godfroid; 21. Robby Vanhamel; 13. Vincent Vandiepenbeeck; 24. Yahya Boumediene; 5. Aaron Verwilligen; 8. Steve Dessart; 15. Ignazio Cocchiere; 9. Esteban Casagolda; 18. Gregoty Bilstein.
Subs: 1. Bilen Mrabet Yousfi; 3. Kevin Dieme (for 4,73 mins); 6. Sadjaliou Sow (for 8,78 mins); 7. Lionel Gendarme (for 18,84 mins)
1. Gwennael Jaa; 2. Pierre Gobiet; 21. Bruno Carvalho-Fernandes; 27. Sebastien Van Aerschot; 5. Gilles Bernard; 16. Michael Wiggers; 8. Alexandre Bury; 24. Jerome Colinet; 7. Jacques Beckers (c); 17. Arnaud Lakaye; 18. Anthony Manfredi.
Subs: 3. Nicolas Birti (for 21,66 mins); 4. Aloys Lambert; 10. Stefano Henrot (for 2,56 mins); 20. Quentin Simonis.
Yellow Card: Lakaye (Sprimont)
(With grateful thanks to Stéphane Lievens)